Teachers' notes and class activities
I have many years' experience talking to students and adults about researching and writing Ghost Boy, the Shalott trilogy, the Janna Mysteries and my latest timeslip novel, Hearts in Chains, set partly during our convict past. I have also conducted workshops in a variety of genres including writing fiction, short stories, crime, fantasy and writing fiction from history. Venues for my talks and/or workshops include schools (both primary and secondary), libraries, universities, plus various writers' festivals and a wide variety of writers' organisations including branches of the FAW, the NSW Writers Centre, the Down South Writers Centre (in WA), Conflux (Canberra) and the Plantagenet Society (Sydney.)
I am happy to take advice from organisers as to my topic and how it suits a particular organisation or a unit in the school curriculum - eg The Janna Mysteries ties in well with the medieval studies unit and also crime-writing. My Shalott trilogy goes well with a study of myths, legends and fantasy as well as the development of Arthurian legend. Ghost Boy (for primary students) is a good introduction to early immigration history, the early treatment of disease and the class system. My new novel, Hearts in Chains, relates to our convict past and the brutal treatment of convicts at Norfolk Island during the Second Penal Settlement in the 19th century.
There are notes at the back of all my books giving information about the history and setting of my novels, with additional information pertinent to each story. See information below for a brief overview of my books plus recommended topics for discussion, themes, activities plus lists of articles relevant to each book. Detailed teachers notes, class activities, topics for debate, research topics etc for my novels may also be downloaded from the Random House Australia website.
Text of speech 'Encouraging Reluctant Readers' made at the ETA NSW Conference, 2006
Your school can do a special Ghost Boy tour (based on the book) at the Quarantine Station in Sydney. Tel: the Education Co-ordinator (02) 9466 1500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details and bookings. For further information go to www.qstation.com.au
Themes: Australian immigration history, ghosts, quarantine and the early treatment of disease, bullying, courage, friendship, family and identity.
- Ask students to research and draw a family tree - either their own, or a make-believe wish list! There is an example of a family tree at the end of the novel.
- Research some of the early 'killer diseases' and their cures. Visit a quarantine station in your state, if you can. (For example, there are two quarantine stations in WA, in Perth and in Albany, which are similar in design to the Sydney QS described in Ghost Boy.)
- Pick a scene from the novel and write a short play based on the characters and situation. Choose a cast and act it out.
- Ghost Boy has been published twice with two different covers. The first version featured a drowning boy. Ask students to design a cover for the novel.
- Write a ghost story! (Who is the ghost, what does it look like, why has it come back, what does it want you to do?)
- Research the life of someone interesting who has lived in the past. Write a story about him/her. Why did they come to Australia, what work did they do, how and where did they live, how did they dress, what makes them interesting, etc.
Articles to read:
The Shalott Trilogy
These may be read in conjunction with the 'myths and legnds' component of the English curriculum.
Please note: there are comprehensive notes on the legends and the history of the period in every book, plus a copy of the poem, 'The Lady of Shalott', in Book 1, Shalott.
- See if you can answer the quiz on the Shalott trilogy.
- Access information about the Ogham alphabet, and see if you can write your name in the ancient alphabet of the druids.
Articles: The landscape of King Arthur, Viewpoint 9, Autumn 2001; Turning history and legend into fiction, Viewpoint 11, Summer 2003. Also Shalott by Felicity Pulman', article by Robyn Sheahan-Bright, Viewpoint 9, Spring 2001.
Themes: time travel, virtual reality, legends (King Arthur, Celtic legends), medieval history and society, magic and shape-shifting, knights and chivalry, courage, faith and religion, setting personal goals and fulfilling your destiny, family and community, love and friendship, identity.
Topics for discussion:
- In the Shalott trilogy, characters explore issues of faith: pagan belief, magic, Christianity, humanism and science. Do we need to believe in something to give our lives meaning, or is it enough to believe in ourselves?
- What did the teenagers learn from their time away? How did it change their lives and change them?
- The role of women in medieval society vs the role of men
- Would you rather be a street kid now (Lev) or a street kid in medieval time (Magrit)? Compare/contrast resources and opportunities.
- Does modern technology isolate us or bring us closer together?
- Lancelot, the best and bravest knight', betrayed his friend and king. How should we define a hero or heroine? What qualities should a leader possess?
- Devise your own alternative history based on an event of historical significance.
- Research what it means to become a knight. Describe the oaths and the ceremony.
- Describe your day if you were a peasant or a noble living in medieval time.
- Plan a medieval day at school. What would you wear? What would you eat? What games would you play?
- Plan a menu for a medieval banquet.
- You have a toothache, a headache, a battle wound or the plague. How would these be treated in the middle ages?
- Compare/contrast the Shalott novels with portrayals of Arthur and the knights of Camelot in other media - eg the poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the films King Arthur' or First Knight' or Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail' or the music of Rick Wakeman (The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table), or Maddy Prior (Arthur the King), or Purcell's opera (King Arthur, 1691)
- Choose an incident from the novel and dramatise it. Cast it and act out the scene. Film it on video. Design a cover for your video.
- Draw a plan of a medieval castle, using information from a book or the web, eg www.castles-of-britain.com
- Choose one of the characters from the novel and rewrite his/her destiny if that character had never gone back to Camelot and found the courage to change his/her life.
Articles to read:
- King Arthur, Fact or Fiction? (unpublished).
- The Lost Kingdom of King Arthur - published as The Landscape of King Arthur in Viewpoint Autumn 2001.
- Turning History and Legend into Fiction for Teenagers, published in Viewpoint magazine Summer 2003.
See Random House website for my notes about researching and writing the Shalott trilogy, plus a more detailed list of suggested activities, etc.
The Janna Mysteries
The Janna Mysteries (CSI for the middle ages): These may be read in conjunction with the medieval studies component of the history curriculum in Year 7 or 8. The novels also tie into aspects of the HSC curriculum: crime and mystery writing, and also exploring such themes as identity, belonging and the journey.
Themes: medieval life in town, country and abbey and an exploration of what life was like for peasants and nobles (both men and women), nuns, pilgrims and jongleurs; faith and belief; identity and understanding; independence and responsibility; empowerment through knowledge; morality; love, trust and friendship; courage in the face of adversity; war and peace, ambition and treachery.
Topics for discussion:
- Janna assumes many disguises' in these novels. How far does what you wear reflect who you are? Is it possible to reinvent yourself?
- How do education and career opportunities today differ from life in medieval time for men or women?
- Janna's mother has turned her back on the church, but Janna spends a year in an abbey and has to make up her own mind about what she believes. Do we need to believe in something to give our lives meaning, or is it enough to believe in oneself?
- On her quest, Janna tells lies, steals things and sets fire to a barn. Do you think her actions were justified? Is it okay to lie, cheat and steal so long as it's in a good cause and/or nobody finds out?
- Janna learns many things while on her quest. Discuss the importance of education and knowledge in your life.
- Janna is very independent, but she learns to trust Godric, and accepts his help from time to time. They are equal in status; she and Hugh are not. Discuss friendship, love and trust. How important are they in any relationship? How important is a common background and shared beliefs when it comes to friendship and/or love?
- The early covers of The Janna Mysteries are very different from how they appear now. Which do you prefer? Why?
- Pretend you are a peasant, a nun or monk, a noble and write an account of your day. Where would you live, how would you dress, what would you eat, what would you do during the day (and night)?
- Plan a medieval day at school. Dress up for the occasion, stage a mock tournament, or a typical evening's entertainment (dance, music, a recital of heroic deeds etc) Record your activities on video. Design a cover for the video
- Rewrite a scene from one of the novels as a play, and act it out. Record it on video. Design a cover for the video
- The early covers of The Janna Mysteries are very different from how they appear now. Which do you prefer? Why? Design your own cover for one of the books
- Google a medieval farming calendar; write a description of the various tasks a farmer must do through the year, and the tools and equipment he would use
- Research medieval beliefs about medicine and the human body (eg the 'humours' of the body, aelfshot, the devil.) Research remedies available and the sort of treatment you might receive if you have a headache, a septic wound, the plague or you are in childbirth
- What happens if you are not the firstborn child? What options are open to you? Explore the roles and expectations of both women and men in medieval society.
Articles to read:
- Writing Medieval England: sex, drugs and other useful things you need to know, published in Newswrite 2006.
- Writing Medieval England from Australia, Viewpoint Spring 2004.
- Researching and Writing The Janna Mysteries (unpublished).
- Writing Crime - written for ASLA, as yet unpublished.
- In the footsteps of Cadfael and Morse.
See the Random House website for my notes about researching and writing each novel in The Janna Mysteries, plus a more detailed list of topics for discussion, suggested activities, etc.